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Police Misconduct in California

What Qualifies as Police Misconduct?

Nowadays, police officers can be exposed to the entire world for their misconduct as a result of social media and the internet altogether. People who capture incidents of police misconduct shed light on the realities that many civilians face on a day-to-day basis as well as the pervasiveness of police misconduct.

Police misconduct is not new. It has been around for a long time but has more recently grabbed the attention of the masses thanks to technological advancements and capabilities in the digital world. That said, it’s important to handle incidents of police misconduct properly, as anyone who stands up against the government for misconduct could risk a lot.

Police misconduct occurs when police officers engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives a person of their Constitutional rights or rights protected by the laws of the United States. To give you a better idea, examples of police misconduct include:

  • Excessive force
  • Discriminatory harassment
  • False arrests
  • Coercive sexual conduct
  • Unlawful stops, searches, or arrests

We take a closer look at these examples of police misconduct below.

Excessive Force by the Police

All too often you hear stories of innocent civilians getting assaulted by police officers who seem to simply want to abuse their power. What you see online or in the news is rarely ever the full picture, however, which is what makes these situations so nuanced. However, police brutality should be thoroughly understood before you make any allegations of such.

Police brutality occurs when an officer uses an unreasonable level of force when carrying out an arrest. Determining whether an officer’s force was excessive requires proof that their behavior was not reasonable based on the circumstances and facts involved in the arrest or other interaction. The officers' intentions are not considered in this evaluation.

Understanding Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment is defined as verbal or physical conduct that demeans or shows hostility, or aversion, toward an individual because of their race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or because of retaliation for engaging in protected activity. In the context of police misconduct, discriminatory harassment can present itself in traffic stops, incidents of excessive force, the use of racial slurs, or the agency’s refusal to respond to the complaints alleging an officer’s discriminatory treatment.

What Is a False Arrest?

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as arrests made without probable cause. That said, a false arrest is a type of 4th amendment violation and occurs when the police detain or arrest a suspect without probable cause. Probable cause is established when the police reasonably believe that a crime has been committed, a crime is being committed, or a crime might be committed. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that an arrest based on inaccurate information does not mean the officer violated your rights. The police officer is only required to use reasonable information available in the given circumstances to make an arrest.

Coercive Sexual Conduct

Police officers who engage in nonconsensual sexual conduct with anyone in their custody could be held criminally and civilly responsible for their misconduct. Sexual misconduct deprives a person of their right to bodily integrity without due process of law and includes crimes such as rape, forced or threatened sexual contact, and unwanted gratuitous sexual contact such as touching or groping.

To prove that a police officer committed coercive sexual conduct against a suspect, the prosecution must prove that the victim did not consent to the officer’s actions by either showing a lack of consent or showing that the officer used force or coercion to overcome the victim’s will. An example of coercion in this context is if the officer told the victim that they will bring false charges or cause the victim to suffer unjust punishment.

Unlawful Stops, Searches, and Arrests by the Police

The police need to have reasonable suspicion to pull you over and a search warrant to search your vehicle under most circumstances. Without these elements, they cannot stop you and/or search your person or vehicle. To clarify this, if a driver is swerving in and out of their lane, then a police officer will reasonably suspect that a crime such as DUI or reckless driving is being committed.

If the officer pulls over the driver, they must have a search warrant to look inside the driver’s vehicle or pat them down. An exception to this rule is if there is circumstantial evidence, such as a beer bottle in the back seat or drug paraphernalia on the floor. In that case, the officer may search the vehicle without a warrant.

As we mentioned before, however, the police cannot make an unlawful arrest, otherwise known as a “false arrest.” If the police made an illegal stop and/or search and arrested a suspect thereafter, then they could be held responsible for making an unlawful ― or false ― arrest.

What Is Qualified Immunity for Police?

When police officers are properly performing their jobs, they are protected by a legal shield called “qualified immunity,” which helps the police avoid lawsuits brought by citizens. Qualified immunity has two elements:

  • Did a constitutional violation occur?
  • Was the right clearly established by law?

However, if the police violate your civil and constitutional rights, then you may be able to sue. If the police did not violate these rights but their conduct is unreasonable, nonetheless, they could be sued anyway. It’s worth mentioning that you cannot simply claim that a police officer's conduct was negligent in order to prevail in their lawsuit ― they need more than that.

Arrested? We Can Stand Up for You.

At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we understand that people make mistakes sometimes, including police officers, and other times, people do things maliciously. These actions can put innocent people’s freedoms and livelihoods at stake, make it imperative to hire an experienced lawyer who can challenge the basis of an arrest and the ensuing criminal charges.

If you believe your arrest and criminal charges resulted from a police officer’s misconduct, contact us at (707) 418-5352 to learn about your legal options. You are not alone.

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